Car clubs provide vehicles (usually cars and vans) to members on a pay-as-you-drive basis. Clubs tend to be organised on a community basis with cars being located as close to a cluster of members as possible – members typically live within 10 minutes walk from the nearest car station. A large city may operate several car stations as part of one scheme. Vehicles are usually owned by the company 'service provider', but in some cases are owned by members of the club.
Car clubs best match the needs of drivers who need to use a car or van on an occasional basis, but who don't want the expense and responsibility of owning a vehicle. Car clubs make most financial sense for: motorists who drive less than around 8,000 miles per year; two and three-car households who have non-essential use of a second or third car; and businesses that can use a car club vehicle to replace pool cars and/or staff's own vehicles for business trips. While car clubs operate in both urban and rural areas, most service providers operate most of their fleet in highly populated urban areas.
There are six main Car club operators in the UK:
City Car Club – the first UK car club.
Zipcar – who also operate in the US and Canada.
Co-Wheels – a community interest car club.
Hertz 24/7 – a service offered by Hertz.
E-Car Club – the UK’s first entirely electric car club.
Easy Car Club – a peer-to-peer car sharing network.
There are also a wide range of local car clubs operating over the UK. A full list can be found on the Car Plus website.
To use a vehicle from one of main UK car clubs you must first become a member. In principle, anyone with a full valid licence held for at least 12 months, and aged between 18 and 75 can apply for membership. Applicants must provide the club with their driving licence details, and are usually asked to declare any endorsements and/or convictions and confirm their insurance claims history.
Once a member, vehicles can be booked by the hour (or half hour) either by telephone or on the Internet – depending on availability the notice required can be as little as a few minutes. Subject to the vehicle being available, the booking time is then confirmed by the call centre (if booking by phone), or by text and/or email (if booking using a mobile or the Internet) and the vehicle reserved.
In most cases, vehicles are then accessed from a car station using a smart 'proximity' card that, after identifying the member, automatically unlocks the vehicle and initiates the booking. The car or van is then started in the normal way using an ignition key usually kept inside the vehicle. The smart card is again used to lock the vehicle at the end of the booking, when the vehicle automatically sends all the user and mileage information back to a central computer for billing.
Like mobile phone packages, each car club has its own set of tariffs, and to become of member of a car club usually requires a joining and/or annual fee and, in some cases, a returnable deposit.
Once a member, access to vehicles is paid for by the hour (or half hour) and/or by the mile. Hourly rates range from around £4 for a city car to £9 for a van or MPV. Mileage rates to cover fuel may apply. In some clubs, the first 30-60 miles are 'free' (i.e. only time is paid for).
Headline tariffs for main UK car clubs
|Service provider||Joining / annual fee*||Per-hour charge*||Per-mile charge*|
|City Car Club||£60 per year||From £4.95||23p/mile (EVs 5p/mile)|
|Co-Wheels||£25 one-off and £5 per month||From £3.75; Daily rate: £17.50||13p/mile (EVs 0p/mile)|
|E-Car Club||£50 per year||From £5.50||0p/mile|
|ZipCar||£50 per year||From £4.95||60 miles free, then 23p/mile|
|Hertz 24/7||Free||From £4.50||20 miles free, then 25p/mile|
*For more frequent users, recurring fees can be used to lower the hourly rates, and monthly packages are available. Business and day rates are also often available. See individual websites for more details.
At first sight, these hourly and per mile charges may seem high – however, they need to be compared with the real costs of owning and running your own vehicle. According to the AA, the total costs of running a petrol or diesel car are around £115 per week (60p per mile) for a car costing £13,000 to £20,000 new (assuming average annual mileage of 10,000 miles). The size of this figure often comes as a surprise, as most motorists only consider fuel costs when it comes to calculating the cost of running a car – the true cost also includes depreciation, insurance, road tax, servicing, parts, parking and tolls.
Most tariffs mean that car clubs offer excellent value for occasional use and small mileages (as compared to owning a vehicle, or using a taxi or a hire car for a half day) – although most clubs do offer day and weekend rates, for longer periods and long-distance car travel, traditional car and van hire companies may be able to offer a better deal.
The pricing of tariffs is designed to reflect the main purpose of car clubs – to provide access to shared vehicles for occasional and local use. For this reason, some clubs have linked-up with one of the major hire companies to provide cars for longer-term use and long journeys –this way clubs ensure that most of their vehicles are available for the majority of members most of the time.
Evidence in the UK and mainland Europe clearly shows that, once established, car clubs reduce total car miles driven, with members walking, cycling, and using public transport more often, as well as travelling less. The research also shows that this reduction of car miles is a direct result of breaking the link between car use and car ownership – exactly the service that clubs provide.
In the UK, several studies show that former car owners increase their use of non-car transport modes by around 40% after joining a car club. Members who owned a car before joining see their mileage fall, by an average of around 25%, with some research showing a reduction of up to two-thirds. Evidence from Europe also shows car mileage reductions of 28% (Belgium) and 45% (Bremen, Germany). At least 30% of members in both these areas reported using trains and buses more, on average by 680 miles per year.
Car clubs also encourage a shift to newer, more fuel efficient (lower CO2 emissions) and better maintained vehicles. The use of newer cars also means lower non-carbon emissions such as NOx and particulates (responsible for local air pollution). A common scenario is for new members to give up a more polluting older vehicle when they join a car club. Figures from one UK car club reveal that 45% of the private cars replaced were more than 10 years old.
Car clubs also have the effect of reducing the number of cars on the road. Car club users typically give up owning a first or second car on joining; others defer purchasing one, preferring to use the car club vehicle instead. Although it is difficult to quantify the exact number of cars taken off the road for each club, there is evidence that 72% of members of a car club with locations in Bristol and London have given up one or more of their privately owned vehicles or deferred the purchase of a vehicle. In general, UK studies suggest that each car club car typically replaces at least 6 private cars. Some research puts the number of vehicles replaced as high as 20. Whatever the exact figure, taken overall, it is estimated that by 2010 there will be 300,000 fewer cars on the road as a result of car club development.
The effect of reducing car mileage, increasing the use of non-car travel, reducing the average age of vehicles driven, and of removing some cars from the road is to significantly reduce overall environmental impacts. While these are difficult to quantify exactly for every club, European research estimates that car club members reduce their total travel CO2 emissions by 40% to 50%.
References: Carplus website, Environmental and social benefits; UK car clubs: an effective way of cutting vehicle usage and emissions? Matthew Ledbury, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, 2004; Environmental Assessment Report WP6. European Mobility Services for Urban Sustainability (MOSES) Project, 2005; car club Research Report by BioRegional Consulting Ltd. February 2007; Car Sharing Offers Route to Carbon Savings, UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) 2007.
According to Carplus, a national charity promoting responsible car use in the UK, there are currently more than 100,000 members of car clubs using around 2,200 cars.
As the number of car stations is becoming too numerous to list, the best way to find the locations of car clubs near you is to use Carplus' interactive UK car club map.
The popularity of car clubs has not gone unnoticed by national government – and there is now a debate among policy makers about supporting the roll-out of a national network of schemes. According to Dr Brenda Boardman, the director of the Demand Reduction theme of the UKERC: "Car clubs are a successful way of encouraging behavioural shift, as experience in London, Switzerland and the USA has already shown, and there are clear carbon savings that would be made through the setting up of a comprehensive national network."